Much of the thick masses of invasive plants that carpeted many Delta marinas and sloughs this winter have now cleared out -- and local officials and water enthusiasts hope early treatment this year will keep it that way.
Officials with the state's Department of Boating and Waterways plan to start treatment soon -- possibly as early as later this month -- to remove water hyacinth, an invasive plant species that clogs channels, boat propellers and export water pumps -- months earlier than years past.
"Anything they can do to help prevent it is fantastic," said Devery Stockon, manager of Owl's Harbor near Isleton.
The treatment will help take care of the plant's "daughters" that lie underneath the water and are just starting to grow, Stockton said.
Water hyacinth treatment begins in early spring, Gloria Sandoval, a Boating and Waterways spokeswoman, said last week. Application of the herbicide can start once the state agency receives biological clearance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service that it won't endanger fish species, she said.
The state is seeking five-year permits to treat water hyacinth and Egeria Densa, the two main Delta invasive plants, rather than the one-year permits issued in years past, Sandoval said.
The normal treatment season for hyacinth is from July 1 to Oct. 15. Egeria Densa's normal treatment season is from April 1 to Oct. 15.
Having those permits in tow for a longer period of time will help "reduce the level of bureaucracy," said county Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay.
"This gives the confidence a plan is in place that gives the same attention as the last two years," Piepho said, crediting recently retired Boating and Waterways director Lucia Becerra for advocating for the Delta communities. "Now we can start to look ahead and plan."
This year's early start on water weed maintenance comes after a late start last year. Many say the hyacinth's coverage of the Delta this past winter was the worst in years -- finally going dormant in the past couple months as temperatures dropped.
Delays in permitting pushed the herbicide spraying program start back to September. That plus warm temperatures late into the fall made the problem blossom.
"It had really been a headache. I talk to a lot of people and they say it makes it tough to fish, because they get their hooks caught or their propellers get caught," said Mike Mangano, an employee at Bethel Island's Sugar Barge marina.
The shiny leaves and lavender flowers of the hyacinth carpeted boatways in front of Owl's Harbor over the winter, forcing them to hiring workers to tow clumps of the plant out from Seven Mile Slough into the San Joaquin River and take other action.
"We pretty much took care of it all ourselves," Stockton said.
The spraying is funded mainly by taxes and boater license fees.
Meanwhile, a third species, the South American spongeplant, is also quickly taking a stranglehold on water coverage. The state department is still working out the kinks for a new program to treat that plant.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.